Thursday, June 29, 2017

7. Tracing the ancestry of Cheras and Keralas.

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We are in the middle of a discussion on the 6 verses of Pandikkovai that say that the Pandyan king Kon Nedumaran engraved the emblems of all the three Tamil dynasties on a peak in the Himalayas. After a discussion on “Panjavan” and “Pāzhi” in the previous article in this series, we are now taking up the next verse which gives a clue on Cheran kings.

This verse (numbered 200) says

கெண்டை வட வரை மேல் வைத்த வானவன் மாறன்

It means “Vānavan Māran who affixed ‘Keṇdai’ (fish) on top of the northern mountain”.

Vānavan Māran is a title for the Pandyan king for having conquered Vānavan. (Pandyans are known as Mārans). Vānavan refers to Cheran kings, but this name is very rare and found at two poems in Purananuru (39 & 126) and at one place in Silappadhikaram. (27-247). But there is no clue in these verses to derive the origin of this name for the Cheran king. This name is not found in the all- Cheran text of the Sangam literature namely, Padiṛṛuppattu.  An old Tamil Grammar book called “Puṛapporuḷ Veṇbāmālai” mentions this name for Cheran. (1)

The name Vānavan is unique because it means ‘celestial’ or ‘Deva’ or ‘Indra’! Vānavan implies that Cheran was equated with Indra or there was something unique about the Cherans.

Thinking about this uniqueness, one finds that the Cherans were always mentioned first among the three dynasties– as ‘Chera, Chola and Pandya”. No reason for this is given in any text or commentary.
That this order was followed by poets is known from the commentary to Silapapdhikaram by the olden commentator Adiyārkkunallār. In Silappadhikaram a chapter is dedicated to the song and dance sequences done by the Ayar women (Tamil equivalent of Yadavas) called “Aycchiyar Kuravai”. A part of it is in praise of all the three kings of the Tamil lands. In that, the Pandyans were praised first, followed by the praises on Cholan and Cheran kings. Writing on it, Adiyārkkunallār says that the poet Ilangovadigal chose to mention Pandyans first and not Cherans, because the land where the Ayars were singing this song belonged to the Pandyans.  (2)

One might think that this order (of names of the three dynasties) is alphabetical. But the sequence found in Tholkāppiyam while mentioning the official flowers of the three dynasties has Cheran in the lead followed by Pandyan and Cholan.

The verse “Bōndai vēmbē ārena varūm(3) mentions the flowers of Cherans, Pandyans and then Cholans. It is not known whether any rationale was there in having kept this order and having Cherans in the beginning.

The same order (Cherans, Pandyans and Cholans) is repeated in the first 15 verses of Purananuru. The very first verse in Purananuru (after the Prayer-verse) is on the Cheran king only.

It is a matter of research whether this prime position is related to their name as Vānavan (Indra) as this name seems to be olden and is indicative of some unique connection with Indra or Deva. This name was not in vogue even in Sangam texts.

Kon Nedumaram seems to have had some pride in having conquered the Cheran king of his times or else he would not have got the title as ‘Vānavan Māran’ which implies the Pandyan superiority over the Cheran king. In the same way, Kon Nedumaran had another title called “Sembian Māran”. The Cholas were known by the title Sembian after Sibi’s name. This was Sibi who offered his flesh to the hawk to save the pigeon. Kon Nedumaram came to be called as Sembian Māran, after he subjugated Cholans of his times.

The name Sembian is often found in Sangam literature. A few Sangam verses mention Pandyans as “Panjavan” the olden name we explained in the previous article. In contrast the Cheran name “Vānavan” is conspicuously absent in the Sangam literature. Only Pandikkovai mentions it 9 times. Kon Nedumaran is mentioned as “Vānavan Māran” at 10 places in Pandikkovai. This shows the widespread use of the name Vānavan at an olden time.

 While looking for justification of the name Vānavan having the meaning “celestial”, there is a surprising hint coming from the flower connected with the Cherans. The official flower of the Cherans is also known as ‘celestial’ flower by Tamils.

Celestial flower of the Cherans.

His official flower was Bōndai – the flower of the Palmyra tree, known in Tamil as Panai maram (பனை மரம்). This tree is regarded as “Karpaga-th-tharu” the celestial tree as every part of it is useful. It is the official tree of Tamilnadu now.

Palmyra trees are native to Asia and  tropics and had a greater presence in the submerged Tamil lands of yore. The submerged Tamil lands were identified as 7 in number, each having 7 habitats within themselves. One among them was known by the name of Palmyra!

This group having 7 habitats was known as “Kurum Panai Nadu”, meaning the land of a Palm variety known as Kurum Panai. The Palm tree before it reaches the flowering stage is known as Kurum panai. The name Kurum was perhaps drawn from the word “kurutthu” meaning tender or young. In a surprising correlation, there is a place called “Kurum panai” near Colachal on the west coast of Kanyakumari district.

The same name appearing in sunken lands shows that this place could have been one of the 7 habitats of Kurum Panai Nadu. This hypothesis cannot be easily overruled as the land was extended beyond the current shore line in the past. The following picture shows the sunken regions in the extended shoreline throughout the west coast.

The outer edge of a previously available landed area is marked with stars in yellow.

The presence of this name, Kurumpanai of the early Sangam age in a location close to the submerged coast reiterates that Sangam age habitats were not myth but real. This region were under Cheran domination for a long time.

Quite a few places in southern most part of Kanya kumari have names with Panai (Palmyra) such as “Panai viḷai” (Viḷai means grow – Overall meaning is ‘where palmyras grow’),  “Vadali viḷai” (meaning Kurum Panai – the Palmyra tree when it is young), “Panaccha moodu”, “Karukku panai viḷai” etc justifying the presence of Palmyra trees in those places at some time in the past.

Of these, one place is crucial for our analysis. The place Vadali viḷai, meaning Kurum Panai, is found near the famous place “Kottar” . A place called “Kottaru” finds mention very often in Pandikkovai. Pandyan king Kon Nedumaran defeated the Cheran king in Kottaru and took control of the same. Kottaru was one among the 7 places of the Cheran king that were won by Kon Nedumaran in different battles. The other 6 places were Sevur, Kadayal, Poolanthai, Naraiyaru, Vizhinjam and Āṟṟukkudi.

The names of Palmyra (eg: Vadali viḷai) appearing in the location close to Kottar makes us think that the Cherans, associated with Palmyra have held control over these regions.

There is a hitch in accepting Kottar as Kottaru of Pandikkovai as there exists a verse in Pandikkovai that says that Kon Nedumaran destroyed the naval forces of the Cheran king at Kottaru (4) The verse says “Cheralar tham koman kadal padai Kottaarru azhiya” (ruined the naval force of the Cherans at Kottaru)

This implies that Kottaru was a coastal town and not an inland. Kottar that we see in the above picture does not fit with the description of Pandikkovai!

By its name Kottaru, a river is indicated and it is probable that Kottaru was established in an estuary of a river by that name. Kottaru must have existed in one of the Kurum Panai Nadu (Palmyra habitats). When all of them were lost to the seas, the survivors must have established places with same names in the new locations. That is how the Palmyra lands and Kottar have come up in today’s topography. In the absence of any memory of this shift, it goes without saying that the submergence had happened in a very remote past – at a time  when Cheran was better identified as Vānavan!

The association of Cherans with Kottaru once again reiterates his connection with Palmyra lands in the past. It is possible to assume that the importance attached to Palmyra as celestial tree lent the name Vānavan to the Cherans in those days.  

Udhiyan Cherans

Coming out from such remote past, we come across other names of Cheran dynasty. They were Udhiyan and Irumpoṛai. Of them Udhiyan lineage seems to be olden as the very first verse of Puṛanānūru on the Cheran king refers to a Udhiyan king who supplied food to the armies of Pandavas and Kauravas during the Mahabharata war!

It is difficult to deduce the etymology of Udhiyan while Irumporai sounds easy to understand. Irumporai is a title for a particular lineage of Cherans of the later period that lasted till the start of the Common Era. Irumporai was perhaps the derivation from Irumbu + porai, meaning “strong as iron”.  But there is no such derivation possible for Udhiyan in Tamil.

But that name makes sense when related to Sanskrit word “Udeechi” meaning ‘north’. North signifies Devas which is what Vānavan also means!

If the Cherans had originated in the North, this name fits with Udhiyan and related with Vānavan.
Their northern origin can be traced to the times of a war between Vasishta and Viswamitra when Vasishta created Mleccha tribes to fight with the army of Viswamitra. According to Mahabharata, Keralas were formed at that time along with Yavanas, Kiratas, Pahallavas, Dravidas, Sakas, Savaras, Paundras, Sinhalas, Khasas, Chivukas, Pulindas, Chinas, Hunas and numerous other Mlecchas. (5) 

Almost all of them were located in the Northwest part of the Indian sub continent where Pakistan – Afghanistan are located now.

A cross reference to this location comes from another chapter in Mahabharata wherein Karna tells about the behaviour of a Mleccha group living in the region of the 5 rivers of Sindhu (Indus river). (6) Due to the curse of a woman, this group started making the sister’s son as the heir and not their own son. This trait was found in later kings who ruled Chrean lands and not in the olden kings of the Sangam age. But this gives rise to an opinion that there existed a former group of Keralas in the North West of Himalayas which migrated to Tamil lands at different times.

Keralas in Vishnu Purana and Valmiki Ramayana.

Vishnu Purana locates Keralas in the north of Magadhas and near Malla rashtra where Mahavira and Gautam Buddha exited their mortal coils. (7) This is in present day Bihar. This region also qualifies as “North” for Tamil lands.  But Keralas were more ancient to the times of these regions.

This can be stated on the basis of the mention of all the three Tamil kingdoms in Ramayana of Valmiki!

In his description of the countries of the South, Sugreeva tells Vanaras that they must search in the regions of Cholas, Pandyas and keralas (चोलान् पाण्ड्यान् केरलान्) (8) Soon after mentioning this Sugreeva asks the Vanaras to search “Pandyan’s Kavatam” (कवाटम् पाण्ड्यानाम् ) (9)

This shows that Keralas lived in the south during the 2nd Sangam Age when Kavatam was the capital city of the Pandyans.

{Kera-Chera are interchangeable and the word Chera refers to the name of a mountain by that name, as per Tamil Thesaurus. Any mention of Keralas can be taken to refer to Cherans}.

In any of these references, there is no way to know the exact lineage from the North that established Cheran dynasty. However the names Vānavan and Udhiyan that look inter changeable or closely related do point to a Northern origin.

Genetic source.

There is however a genetic study that puts the Keralas unique among others in India, perhaps relating them to a location beyond the Himalayas in Northern regions that was connected with Uttar Kuru.
Haplogroup U is an mtDNA traced to a woman who lived 55,000 years ago. All human beings (men and women) inherit mtDNA from their mother. It is found that 23% of the Indian population and 11% of native Europeans have mtDNA U. U1 is the subclade of U and is found in Europe in Georgia. 

Further subclade of U1 is U1a. It is found in Tuscany in Italy and only in Kerala in India. Earlier I had written several articles on connection with Etruscans of pre-Greek society with Tirayan Pandyans. (10). The Etruscans lived in the region that presently corresponds to Tuscany.

The presence of U1a in Kerala and Tuscany justify my write ups on migration of people of Tamil origin (Kerala including in those days) to Etruscan and founding the basis for pre-Greek culture. But this happened in recent history, say in 1500 BCE when the Kavatam of Pandyans was submerged. 

Even before that submergence, Cherans and Pandyans have held sway over the habitats in the Indian Ocean, particularly the extension of west coast and the submerged parts of Western Ghats that extended up to Madagascar.

Cheras and Kon Nedumaran lived prior to that time. So that brings our search to the parent Haplogroup U.

The study of the genome of a boy buried in a place called Malta neat Lake Baikal in Siberia some 24,000 years ago was found to belong to Haplogroup U, the parent mtDNA of Haplogroup U1a found in Kerala. (11)

This location near Lake Baikal falls within the area of Uttar Kuru that was frequented by Arjuna who had his paternal connection with that place. The presence of U1a in Kerala with a definitive presence of U Haplogroup in Baikal, justifies a clear northern origin of the Vānavan – Udhiyan Cheran. A place called Indra loka was located there. The name Indra was used in three ways in ancient texts, (1) as a divine and therefore out-of human reach realm, (2) as a force in Nature namely thunder bolt and the electricity created out of it and (3) as human beings like us who had emotions and vulnerabilities like us but were clever in keeping themselves hidden from others and unreachable for others.

I would be detailing them in the course of this article though for the present let me say that the first one is reachable by spiritual route, the second can be understood by logical & scientific explanation and the third one was within reach of the people of the past who even had contact, though secretly with them.

A group from that gene pool was also present in India since 55,000 years ago and also in Baikal region. No one knows who came from which region, but the name Vānavan does show that parent group emerged in Baikal region that was regarded as Uttar Kuru in Mahabharata times and as Indra Loka in times prior to that. The Haplogroup U underwent 2 mutations and the 2nd one was settled as Vānavans of Chera dynasty.

The more recent connection of the Cherans with that location in North can be seen in Silappadhikaram wherein it is mentioned that the Cheran king Senguttuvan procured “Chadukka Bhootham” from Amaravathy (capital city of Devas) and held Soma yaga. (12)

Similar kind of Chadukka Bhootham was given by Indra to Muchukuntha in much earlier times which was established at Pumpukar. It would be written in a separate article at an appropriate context.

Now coming to the issue of order of names in the list of 3 dynasties:

It is always auspicious to address to the North as signifying Devas and that is how Tholkappiyam begins its first line. If a dynasty is related to the region of North and even Deva land, tradition was to begin the list with the name of that dynasty. That is how Cherans came to occupy prime place in the order of the three dynasties. The middle one was reserved for Cholas as they came from Sibi who occupied North, but south of Northern Cheras. The Pandyas came last as they had their abode in South always.

The title Vānavan Maran stirring up so much thought contains clue for another part of hidden history, this time of the South. The famous Vaishnavite temple at Thirumalirum Cholai, locally known as Azhagar Malai in Madurai, has had a previous existence in sunken lands of Pandyans. Another facet of Vānavan Maran who defeated Vānavan at Arrukkudi finds resonance in the verse of Periyazhwar. That would be discussed next in this series.

(To be continued)


1. வானவன் போரெதிரிற் போந்தையாம் பூ (புறப். பொது. 1)

2. Silappadhikaram, Chapter 17, Commentary to “munneerinul....”

3. Thol kappiyam, Porul Adhikaram – 63.

4. Pandikkovai – verse 247.

வாமான் நெடுந் தேர் வய மன்னர் வாள் முனை ஆர்க்கும் வண்டார்
தேமா நறும் கண்ணியாய் சென்று தோன்றும் கொல் சேரலர் தம்
கோமான் கடல் படை கோட்டாற்று அழியக் கணை உகைத்த
மாண் சிலையவன் கன்னி நல் நீர் கொண்ட ஈர் முகிலே.

5. Mahabharata 1-177.

6. Mahabharata 8-45

7. Vishnu Puarana 2-3

8. Valmiki Ramayana 4-41-12.

9. Valmiki Ramayana 4-41-19

12. Silappadhikaram Chapter 28 – lines 147 & 148. 


Richtofen said...

Wonderful research

SMHARAN said...

Great research mam

South Indian said...

From the first or second paragraph: "But there is no clue in these verses to derive the origin of this name for the Cheran king. " <- around the timeline I am providing in this video, Cheran is derived from cAral nADu -> Chera -> Kera :

And that whole video goes to the root of the word "genus" from "Enu" in tamizh. In context how the word kin arises from genu -> gin. Caldwell/pAVANar followers are giving you all Indics a run for your money - LOL:)